Going Green is Fine, but will Solar Save me Money?

Cut Utility BillsGone are the days when homeowners installed solar panels on their homes only because they (A) lived in a remote location or (B) wanted to help save the planet. With the soaring costs of electricity, many homeowners are installing solar panels on their rooftops because it is a good financial investment that saves them a lot of green. For example, when solar systems are correctly installed for maximum output, many homeowners have immediately experienced a significant cut in electricity costs. In some cases savvy homeowners  actually turn the table on their utility company and get monthly payments back from their utility for the excess electricity their solar systems feed into the utility’s power lines. Check out the following factors which will help determine how much money you could potentially save on electricity costs by tapping into the power of the sun.

Factor #1: The value of rebates and other incentives where you live.

There may be great state and local incentives to purchase solar panels where you live, or federal incentives may be your only help from the government, as far as reducing your cost to install solar panels. Doing some homework on these opportunities is necessary, but it’s also a fairly simple assignment. If you go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at dsireusa.org, you’ll find all of the information you need about government incentives. For example, Pennsylvania has a state rebate program for solar panels which, together with federal incentives, can help with your bottom line on investing in solar.

Three programs which can help to make a solar system a profitable investment are net metering, feed-in tariff (FIT), and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs):

  • Net metering is available in most states. This program involves the utility grid taking your extra energy production and crediting it at retail electricity rates. The inputs and draws from the grid are monitored by electric meter monitors. If you use more electricity than your solar system produces, you use credits to “buy back” those kilowatt hours.
  • With feed-in tariff (FIT) programs, the production of your solar system is monitored separately from the electricity consumption for your household. Based on a specified contract, you are paid a high price for solar-produced electricity over a course of years.
  • In states where they are allowed, solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) produce income because environmental attributes, such as avoiding the carbon emissions caused by fossil-fueled electricity sources, can be sold.

Expanding Solar PV System InstallationsFactor #2: Getting the right system installed by professionals.

A little homework is also recommended when choosing a solar installer. A professional installer will be able to accurately evaluate such details as the shading and orientation of your roof. You want to get the most out of a solar system, and smart system design is important to the success of your investment.

Factor #3: The warranty on your solar system.

When working with reputable solar manufacturers, it is typical to get a warranty that is a minimum of 20 years. Because your solar panels will last for decades, you can look forward to savings for many years to come.

Factor #4: Your payment source for purchasing a solar PV system.

The interest rate that you pay on your solar system, of course, will be a factor in determining how much money you ultimately save on electricity costs. Possible sources are vendor financing, a credit union loan, and a loan backed by the government. Whatever your loan source, as long as your system is properly installed, you can count on cutting your electricity costs.

No matter where you live in the U.S., there is enough sun to justify the installation of a solar system. Contact one of our professionals with North American Solar Stores (NASS) for help in determining the feasibility and potential profitability of a solar PV system on your rooftop or property. The sooner you contact us, the sooner you could start saving some green.

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Race to the Rooftops is a Contest Aimed at Reducing Solar Installation Costs, in Michigan and the other 49 states

Rooftop Solar Energy System InstallationWhile solar panels have dropped in price significantly, rooftop installations can still be too big of an expense for homeowners due to non-hardware costs such as interconnection, inspection, and permitting. The federal government has recognized this as being a hindrance to greater solar growth. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently sponsoring a competition called SunShot Prize: Race to the Rooftops which awards up to $10 million in cash for the first three teams that consistently demonstrate that they can make solar installations with an average cost of $1 per watt (W) for non-hardware costs, such as those mentioned above.

In spite of the recent, unprecedented, and substantial cost reductions for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, the price to get solar plugged in can be as much as half of the total cost for residential as well as small commercial PV systems. The greatest challenge to achieving competitiveness for solar installations by 2020 is enabling dramatic reductions in “soft costs” or non-hardware costs of solar systems.

The SunShot Prize aims to direct the attention and efforts of solar inventors and innovators at solving this challenge of steep soft costs. The winning teams will achieve non-hardware costs averaging $1 per watt in the installation of 2 to 15 kilowatt rooftop PV systems during Phase 1 of the competition. The second phase of the competition aims to assess business sustainability of the winning teams and calls for an additional 1,000 qualifying systems to be installed.

Among the solar panel manufacturers interested in winning the $10 million prize are some in Michigan, where making a profit on the installation of panels remains a challenge. Some of the hindrances they are trying to overcome include:

  • Many people in Michigan don’t seem to realize that there is enough sunshine in the state to make solar power a worthwhile investment.
  • The utility companies in Michigan provide sharp limits to how much power can be bought back from solar power systems that are privately owned.
  • No state solar tax incentives are offered.
  • Permitting standards for solar technology are frequently unknown to local officials.
  • Being a winner of the SunShot Prize will mean charging no more than $2,000 for soft costs for a $2,000-watt (2 kW) solar PV system, no more than $10,000 for a 10-kw system, and so on.

Expanding Solar PV System InstallationsWhat the Department of Energy is hoping will come of this competition is that new subsidy-free ways will be found to cut the following costs related to the installation of a solar PV system:

  • Labor
  • Permitting
  • Local inspection
  • Utility connection
  • System design
  • Marketing costs
  • Sales commission

Contestants are encouraged to work with utility companies, communities, local agencies, and installers to make installation, permitting, and interconnection a more streamlined process.

An overarching goal of the SunShot Initiative is ultimately to make solar power a competitive form of electricity by 2020. When the contest is over in late 2015, the plan is to discover, adopt, and broadcast the best methods for reducing by more than 65% the soft costs associated with installing solar PV systems.

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A Plane Fueled Only by Solar Energy Flies Across the U.S.

In a quest reminiscent of the Wright brothers’ achievements in aviation, an airplane fueled 100% by solar power made an across-country journey that ended in Washington DC this week, though it has a bit further to travel.  The name of the spindly aircraft is Solar Impulse, and it’s the first solar-powered airplane to fly both day and night.  This privately funded feat – the culmination of 10 years of planning at a cost of about $150 million – was designed to showcase the possibilities for clean energy.solar energy

The Solar Impulse is an ultra-light aircraft which seats one pilot in a cramped cockpit; there is no room for passengers.  The approximately 11,000 photovoltaic cells gather solar power which fuels the plane’s four engines, and solar energy is also stored in batteries on the aircraft.  The airplane’s wingspan is 208 feet, which is the same as a jumbo jet; 10,746 of the solar cells are on the wings.  The solar-powered plane weighs 3,500 pounds, the same as a small car.

The nearly two-month journey of the Solar Impulse began in San Francisco with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Washington DC.  The aircraft travels at a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour; with help from the wind, it can go as fast as 100 mph.  Obviously, speed wasn’t the purpose of the undertaking.  The hope of those who worked on the project was to demonstrate that efficient technologies are possible without the aid of fossil fuels.  And more specifically, it’s possible to fly an airplane long distances in both the daytime and nighttime with solar energy as the sole power source.

In spite of the futuristic technology used on the Solar Impulse, the cross-country flight was similar to the earliest years of aviation.  The lone pilot had to rely on improvisation in numerous tricky situations that came up.  The air travel was easiest on clear, calm days, when the pilot took the plane to a maximum altitude of 28,000 feet, turned off the engines to preserve power, and then began a gradual, gliding descent.  This process was repeated many times throughout the journey, which made riding in the Solar Impulse comparable to riding an airborne rollercoaster in slow motion.

The solar-powered airplane was forced to land at night, after commercial flights had landed, because of the aircraft’s slow speeds.solar panels

The two adventurers who took turns piloting the plane, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, discovered that the plane’s huge wingspan combined with its light weight made a terrible combination with turbulence.  In Dallas, Borschberg said, the plane travelled backwards for a while when facing 40mph headwinds.  An extra overnight stop in Cincinnati was necessary due to strong headwinds.

The most difficult part of the mission across the U.S., Piccard said, was siphoning moisture from the plane after early-morning fog inundated the mechanisms.

The next stop for the Solar Impulse is to go on display at the Smithsonian’s Steven F Udvar-Hazy air and space museum, where a much wider audience can get a close look at the innovative plane.  Lofty future plans for the aircraft include a possible around-the-world flight, possibly as soon as 2015.

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5 Common Misconceptions about Solar Energy Related to Weather and Equipment

Solar EnergyAll the folks at North American Solar Stores (NASS) know first-hand the many benefits of solar.  From Springdale, Arkansas, to White River Junction, Vermont, and all NASS locations in between, we know that solar power is affordable, saves money on energy costs, and makes a huge contribution to a cleaner world.  In our Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and other NASS stores, we frequently encounter consumers who have a lot of wrong ideas about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.  The more facts homeowners and business owners know about solar, the more they share our excitement about the greenest source of energy there is.  The following are some common weather and equipment-related misconceptions about solar that we frequently help to dispel:

Misconception #1:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective in Harsh Winter Climates. 

Solar panels, in fact, work very well in cold climates, including in snowy weather.  The effectiveness of the PV system can be hindered if too much snow covers the panels, but it’s usually easy to remove the snow buildup with a squeegee.  (Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and removing debris from the solar system.)  The dark solar panels help speed the snow melting process, particularly when the panels face south.  Tests have shown that snow sometimes helps to increase the amount of electricity generated by solar systems, in a way comparable to snow skiers getting sunburned on bright winter days.  Solar panels conduct electricity best in cold weather.

Misconception #2:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective in Cloudy Environments. 

For solar PV systems to work effectively, UV light is all that’s required.  Even the cloudiest places on earth have proven to be excellent for producing solar power.  In fact, Germany ranks low on the number of sunny days they have every year, and Germany is the world’s solar energy capital.

Misconception #3:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective Without Southern Roof Exposure. 

While south-facing solar panels are typically the most efficient, solar systems with east-west roof exposure are also effective.  Ground-mounted systems are another workable option; all that is needed is an unshaded area that is relatively flat.

Misconception #4:  Solar PV Panels Require Extensive Maintenance. 

Once a solar PV system is installed, maintenance and cleaning are rarely required; and there are no moving parts.  The average warranty on a solar system is 25 years, which is proof in itself that solar systems are incredibly durable.  We recommend that the panels be inspected several times a year, to look for debris or dirt that may have collected on them.  You can also schedule professional solar panel cleaners to periodically clean your solar panels.Small Solar Panels

Misconception #5:  Solar PV Panels are Large, Bulky, and Unattractive.

Technological advancements in solar have contributed to the overall effectiveness of solar PV panels and to their appearance.  Solar shingles are even available.  Solar panels can be combined with roofing materials such as metal, asphalt, slate, and fiber-cement and look aesthetically pleasing.

Check back on our website for five solar misconceptions that involve costs, expenses, and efficiency of solar PV systems.  Contact any of our NASS stores with questions about the benefits of solar power or for solar installation.

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